Conflict erupted at the March Union Council meeting, as plans were revealed to cut the hours of UCLU’s contracted cleaners by 30% in a bid to cut the Union’s £300,000 deficit by a third.
Divisions at Council
At March’s Union Council meeting Sustainment, Engagement and Operations Sabb Zakariya Mohran argued that UCLU should prioritise spending on the students, claiming that the Union is currently paying for more cleaning services than it needs. However, Postgrad Sabb Mark Crawford and Women’s Officer Sam Nicholson retorted that the Union shouldn’t seek to make savings from arguably their most vulnerable constituents.
The motion at the meeting passed narrowly and will be recommended to the Trustee Board at the next meeting on March 23rd, where they will make the final decision.
Despite the Union Council vote, it seems likely that the cuts will be ratified regardless.
Activities and Events Officer Nick Edmonds, chair of the Trustee Board, and Mohran are both keen to ignore the vote. Instead, there seems to be a desire to placate UCL’s senior management’s desire for a more streamlined university. They frequently argue of the need to prove to Rex Knight and co. that the Union is fiscally responsible, in return for preferential treatment. A tactical move taken out of the Japanese Kamikaze training manual.
Pressure from above
UCLU’s CEO, Ian Dancy, is an active part of discussions surrounding the vote. Dancy has insisted on the need to cut back on expenditure, putting pressure on Mohran to act.
Aware of this charge, Dancy has submitted a confidential paper to the Trustee Board for discussion, in which he justifies overruling Council on the basis that this is an operational not a political decision. The Council’s vote will be noted, but will not be considered in the same manner as a motion passed.
Almost like a parody of a true union, the student’s union prefers to listen to university management than their own elected officers. A veil of secrecy surrounds the plans, with some sabbatical officers only learning of the proposals indirectly.
According to Mohran and Edmonds, these cuts are necessary to prevent a doomsday scenario. They claim that the current annual deficit of £300,000 will only allow UCLU to keep the lights on for another 3 years.
However, Mark Crawford claims that the reserves will last for another 6 years at least. A source from within the Union has alleged that these cuts are driven by the Trustee Board’s “unnecessary and extreme” decision last year to pledge to cut the entire £300k deficit in the space of one year.
Whilst the arguments over cuts rage on, the Trustee Board has approved a total Union rebrand costing £70,000 carried out by an external company.
Adding to UCLU’s planned cleaning cuts, the Union plans to make savings by bringing the security at its bars and pubs in-house. Currently run by AP Security, guards would be employed directly by CIS, with the prospect of bringing on more guards from elsewhere in London.
Security staff have expressed their desires to stay with AP Security, citing a good working relationship with the firm, and uncertainty about pay if they moved to CIS. Current guards are also concerned that extra staff, would not have enough experience with students to effectively manage escalations, and may even be too violent.
However, current guards don’t have much of a say. One security member who has worked at the union for 10 years was told to sign a new contract, or leave. With another member of RUMS security staff already quitting over the proposed changes, there might be no guards left to turn off the Union lights when its cash reserves finally run out.